I’ve been very pleased with ISA Browns. They are gentile, except we don’t seem to have good luck with Roosters; I’ve been told meanness is common in the light colored roosters. The egg production has been great. Longevity seems to be on par with what I’d read, 2 years being the peak for egg laying.
But what about winter laying of ISA Brown chickens, especially supplemental light?
In my review of the Buff Orpingtons and the Rainbow breeds as Dual purpose birds, one of the things I mentioned was that artificial light was needed to keep these breeds laying in the winter. From what I’ve read, breeds that are bread for egg laying will lay through the winter without additional lighting. I’ve even heard first hand of Rhode Island Reds laying through the winter without additional light.
I’ve not had that luck with my chickens, including the ISA Browns. Last year I did not provide extra light and they stopped laying. I could not pin down for sure if it was the light, stress, cold, or water conditions, detailed in my solar tire saga.
This year, winter 2020/2021, when egg production started dropping off, and basically stopped, I was again having predators stressing the birds, including even losing some birds. However, cold and water were not an issue, see best solar water. So I went ahead and introduced artificial lighting in the mornings and evening to ensure the birds were getting 12+ hours of light. To my satisfaction, egg production not only increased, but our egg production returned to normal. Of course, the predator situation was also taken care of; however, after a couple more months of good production, I really think it was the light.
The down side to this is that I didn’t size the solar panel and battery to accommodate running the light this much. The solar panel does help, and for now I’ve ended up adding an additional deep cycle battery and swap batteries every 5-7 days if it’s been overcast, not as hands off as I wanted. I haven’t done any calculations, but I’m considering a larger solar panel, but in the summer it would be extreme overkill just to run the automatic door. In the meantime, it’s still better than how frequently I had to change batteries without a solar panel.
Another note about the cold. Our chickens don’t seem to be bothered by the cold. The research I’ve done indicates that if you’ve chosen a cold hearty breed, which I have, then as long as you provide a dry area that’s out of the wind, the chickens will be fine. The worst thing for them is to be wet in the cold. Our coop has an open floor, but 4 solid walls and windows to let the sun in. The lowest roost is a foot off the floor, which allows for wind blockage.
Brothers M. Mondays is our way of showing you how excited we are for the first Seymour Farmers Market, LESS THAN A WEEK AWAY!
It’s been a fun year so far and this week I thought I’d showcase some of it.
First is the dynamic between Matthew and Samantha. Over the last year or so, these two have really come into their own and seem to bring out the good fun loving qualities in each other.
That attitude carried over into the care of the chickens. It has been interesting and a pleasure to watch these two work together; everything from joking and encouraging the chickens, to war cries when moving them
…and of course running.
And then there was a cow
And as a bright spot for the future, Olivia has been joining in the fun. She says she’s learning so she can help too.
Wow, what a month February was. It’s been a little over a month since we kicked off the 2020 CSA season and our CSA slots are almost full. A huge thank you is in order for everyone who’s supporting us by ordering.
If your considering a CSA order, we have a couple slots open so let us know what you want.
Thanks again for getting 2020 off to a great start.
Providing unfrozen water in the winter can be a challenge and time consuming. Since we pasture the chickens “tractor” style with the portable coop, power to heat the water is the issue. I believe I’ve finally figured it out.
First year we started with multiple plastic waterers that we swapped out multiple times a day. This works decently, but the water still freezes, it’s labor intensive, and someone needs to be around during the day to swap waterers.
The next year we steped it up by heating the waterers with a light bulb. This worked pretty good, but required us to keep the coop within extension cord distance of an outlet and periodically water would freeze in the top of the waterer.
Last year I built a tire waterer to try and keep the chicken water from freezing. I put a board inside the tire on the bottom side, stuffed the inside of the tire with old tarps for insulation, and fitted a plastic pan in the tire. My experience with that was poor and I do not recommend it. The biggest issue was that the chickens would stand on the tire and mess in their water all day. By the time I got home to change it, it was pretty bad. It did help slow down the freezing process; however, being open air, it still allowed the water to eventually freeze solid, especially overnight.
I’ve been playing with an idea of an enclosed PVC and nipple system. Basically building an insulated box and filling it with 3″ tubes of PVC, shown in the graphic. There would be a cutout of frame and insulation in one top corner to allow access to add water. One bottom corner would have a smaller PVC tube that protruded through the box with a water nipple on the end. The front would be Twinwall Polycarbonate glazing to let the sun in and the inside would be painted black to absorb as much heat as possible.
It was getting cold this year and I needed to get a waterer made for the chickens so I decided to not build the PVC waterer for the following reason. One, my chickens are not trained to a nipple system yet. I’m having trouble figuring out how to attach the PVC box to the ‘Pequod’ chicken coop, especially since it’s going to be heavy and need decent support. The 3″ PVC fittings are expensive and I have concerns the metal part of the nipple would still freeze and cause issue.
I was basing the PVC system on principals I learned from this solar horse tank. Then it hit me, how about trying to replicate the horse tank at a chicken waterer size! Since the amount of water would be significantly less, I wouldn’t want to leave the top exposed, but chicken heads are small, so I took a gamble that they’d stick their heads through a hole instead.
My first thoughts were to use a bucket, but I didn’t like the clearances nor dealing with bending and attaching the polycarbonate glazing. So I decided to use a tote, black obviously so it will absorb the heat from the sun.
Using similar principals as the solar horse tank. I first put 2″ foam on the bottom to have an insulated base to sit the water on. I measured from the top of the foam to the bottom of the lid and subtracted 2 inches for the foam that would be attached to the lid. This gave me the height for the foam sides and Twinwall Polycarbonat glazing
Next I added the 2″ foam to the sides. I looked at the shape of the tote and measured across the end where I could fit a straight piece of foam. The bottom of the tote is narrower than the top, measured top and bottom and cut sloped pieces of foam.
I measured from the floor to top and between the insides of the sides to cut a rectangle out of the front of the tote for the window. I cut a piece of polycarbonate glazing slightly larger, about 1/2 to 3/4 inch, than the hole on the sides and bottom so that the foam could help hold it in place. I used duct to hold and seal the polycarbonate glazing in place; this also sealed the tubes. I put the scrap piece of plastic from the side on the floor in front of the window to try and suck in more heat.
On the other side, I placed the water bowl in the tote and used the top of the bowl to mark the bottom of the drinking opening. Using a hole saw, I cut two overlapping circles to make the oval shaped opening for the chickens to sick their head in to drink, cleaning up the oval edges with a utility knife.
I thought it would be better to use a thinner foam where the hens stick their heads in, so I cut a piece of 1/2 inch foam, from scrap I had, to cover this side, removing the same oval. I used duct tape to hold the foam pieces together and seal the seams. I also used several pieces of duct tape to secure the foam to the hole and prevent the chickens from rubbing the foam.
Next I cut the 2″ foam for the lid making it fit snug when placed in the tote, but not too snug as it’ll need to be opened and shut frequently. With the foam in the tote and the lid on, I drilled 4 sets of 2 holes so I could use zip ties to secure the foam to the lid. I also cut some small squares of plastic from something in the recycling to prevent the zip ties from digging into the foam and pulling through.
From the drinking hole, I wanted to minimize the surface area of the incoming air over the bowl. I used 2″ foam to make a bridge over the bowl, then added 1/2 foam on either side of the hole to create a smaller cavity where the outside air had direct contact with the water.
At this point I put the waterer into action; however, I forgot chicken peck. I’m not sure why I thought they wouldn’t peck the foam bridge, but I did and they did, effectively destroying the bridge.
So… I redid the bridge. I used corrugated plastic from an old ‘For Sale’ sign I had on all the pecking sides of the bridge and plenty of duct tape to hold it in place. The 2″ foam was replace with 1/2″ foam over the bowl. I didn’t account for needing to remove the bowl to clean it and the 2″ foam made it so I had to tip the bowl to get it out. Now I don’t have to.
How well does it work? Great. Basically, overnight at 15-19 degrees Fahrenheit I had about 1/8 inch of ice frozen on the top of the bowl. Down in the teens is a bit thicker. In the morning if the bowl was full of water, pull the bowl out and bang it upside down on the ground to remove the ice. If it’s half or less, then fill it with warm water from the tap and melt the ice that way.
During the day, in the teens and twenties the water stays unfrozen, especially if there is sun, but even on overcast days, there should be enough solar to keep it unfrozen. Unfortunately, we only had a few days this winter where it stayed below freezing night and day for 2 or more days, so I cannot give accurate results for long cold spells; however, given what I’ve seen so far it should work great. The heat from the warm water in the morning in conjunction with the passive solar heat should keep the water from refreezing during the day.
With all my scraps, this was a pretty cheap build and worth every penny. $6 for the tote and $10 for the rubber bowl, and $20 for the polycarbonate glazing. (the link isn’t the one I purchased, but this is a similar 5 pack) I had 2″ and 1/2″ foam left over from insulating the basement and other projects.
Thanks to everyone who supported us this year. Our freezers are empty. You guys were great and surpassed our expectations helping us sell out of chicken earlier than expected. THANK YOU.
If you were still hoping to get more chicken this year, we’re sorry to disappoint you. However now is the time to be thinking about our CSA for next year. Not only is it our best pricing, it’s also a guaranteed way to get the chicken you want.
Our CSA really is the life line of our operation. Without it we couldn’t keep selling quality chicken. So keep a look out towards the beginning of the year for more information on our 2020 CSA packages.
As I’ve mentioned in my Chicken Tractor Guide, you can use the chicken tractor design for layers. So this summer and fall we’ve used our idle chicken tractors to house the new flock of layers while the old layers are in the A-frame coop and being phasing out.
Since this was temporary, I did not fasten the layer box to the back wall, but you could easily make a light weight set of 2-3 boxes to hang off the back wall. Instead we used a double box I made out of scrap 2x wood for another project. It’s heavy but works good.
Optimal moving depends on the stocking density. For our 8 birds I’d say about every 3-5 days. We’ve gone as longer during busy spells, leaving the ground looking like a post-apocalyptic movie scene. I reconciled staying in one place so long with the fact that using good feed and the pasture has plenty of time to recover before next year.
Their foraging area is much smaller than the A-frame; however, that can be mitigated with more frequent moving. Also, I’ve already experienced that this lighter breed can fly over the chicken wire fence we use for the A-frame.
A final note. This ISA Brown flock really dug into the soil much more than my previous breeds leaving many deep holes when we removed the tractor. I say deep, but the deepest was about 4-5 inches. They seem to digging shallower holes as time passed, which may be a factor of us moving them more frequently or just age.
Supplemental roofing for the tractor
Since we have roosting poles already in our tractors, we only had one real issue, the tarps. The tarps are medium duty and will typically last until the fall, sometimes longer, unless you have birds resting on them as we do. Last year it was the crows that tore up the tarps. This year it’s our flock of Guinea fowl. Check out what a week of roosting can do to a tarp.
Fortunately I had an old piece of roofing laying around that I could attach to the top. The boys just held some scrap pieces of wood on the inside of the coop that I fasten the roof to with screws. This will protect the tarp and ensure a dry area underneath for the food dispensers.
October came and I decided not to move the chickens to the A-frame. A chicken escaped the tractor during feeding and we caught her that night perched on the fence that keeps my Rainbow flock contained around the A-frame. It’s really nice having them in the tractor, not needing to open and shut the coop each day and not worrying about them flying over the fence or aerial predation.
The cold of winter is my biggest concern. I would want some better protection than the tarp and windbreak. These are hearty birds and I’m think I could design a suitable shelter area in the tractor; however, snow is problematic for moving and requires some more thought.
The future of the layer flock
This experiment got me thinking about building a new chicken coup on a trailer frame and incorporating the best feathers of the A-frame, chicken tractor, and more. Something very portable, versatile, and low maintenance.
Keep an eye out for the results of my new coop idea. I’ll add a link to the new post here when it’s ready. Until then, here’s a teaser.